This story has been updated.
The Atlanta Zoning Review Board on Aug. 10 spent an hour listening to questions and concerns about the proposed annexation that would bring 744 acres, including Emory University, into the city limits.
The annexation proposal also includes petitions from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia Power, Villa International, Synod of South Atlantic & Presbyterian Church (USA) Inc. and the Centers for Disease Control.
State Rep. Beth Beskin, R-Atlanta, suggested that the city had not done its due diligence and might be annexing a halfway house into the city, which requires a longer public hearing period. She also questioned why the annexation wouldn’t absorb the approximately nine students living in the area into Atlanta Public Schools when every other annexation to date has done so.
DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader noted the county had filed a formal objection asking the Department of Community Affairs to arbitrate the issue to sort out the differences in zoning between DeKalb and Atlanta.
Representatives of Druid Hills Civic Association’s Land Use and Historic Preservation Committee said the annexation could allow Emory to build large developments on the neighborhood’s borders without input from residents. Neighborhood representatives also said they were concerned that the city could annex additional properties “piecemeal” without the proper zoning.
Chuck Palmer, an attorney for the property owners – with the exception of the Centers of Disease Control – seeking annexation into the city, said those concerns have been investigated and shouldn’t delay the Zoning Review Board’s decision, and they didn’t. The board approved all three items related to the annexation with little debate, determining the zoning would be roughly the same in Atlanta as it is in DeKalb County. The City Council could vote on the annexation petition as early as Sept. 5, but Rader hopes the city will delay that decision until the county and the city work through their differences.
“We believe we’re entitled to that arbitration and any decision that the City Council makes will be conditioned upon the results of that arbitration,” Rader said.
Beskin said under state law halfway houses and drug dependency centers require a six to nine month public hearing process. She said Emory’s Psychiatry Department and the sober living dorm might qualify.
“Not that I object to any of those entities,” Beskin said. “If those are there, there’s a special hearing process. If the procedure is not followed properly it can result in a retroactive invalidation of the annexation.”
Palmer told the Zoning Review Board that no facilities at Emory meet this definition.
Beskin also pressed the board on the issue of the city’s public school boundaries. She said that City Council and School Board districts are usually one in the same. Annexing territory without expanding public school boundaries could disenfranchise voters in the upcoming city elections, she said. Beskin also wrote a letter to this effect and sent it to the city of Atlanta.
Melissa Mullinax, senior adviser to Mayor Kasim Reed, said the city does have the authority to expand its boundaries without expanding Atlanta Public Schools boundaries. She said voters in the area would not be disenfranchised because they would still be able to vote for their representative on the DeKalb County School Board. She said the annexation does not include expansion of Atlanta Public Schools at the request of one of the applicants, Villa International. The Christian ministry offers short-term residences to international researchers working at the CDC and Rollins School of Public Health at Emory. She said the other petitioners were “somewhat agnostic” on the question.
“Is this an issue that’s going to go to court and be settled in court? Very likely,” she said. “We believe we have the authority to do that. The receiving government is responding to the wishes of the petitioners.”
Palmer said the application does not speak to the school issue and noted the county’s objection, saying neither was grounds for a deferral by the board.
“We understand the county has filed an objection,” Palmer said. “That will go through the arbitration process certainly that result will speak for itself.”